In these days of global warming much attention is being paid to the fast expanding regions of drought across the planet. Drought has a visceral quality to us all. Who among us doesn't have some experience of real thirst? Drought is also enormously visual. Images of cracked and barren earth, dried up river beds, starving livestock are the very badges of drought.
What gets much less attention are the regions on the other end of this phenomenon, the areas now afflicted with regular and highly destructive flooding. Here's one way of looking at it: a cow that dies from drought and a cow that dies from flooding are both dead cows. Too much rain can be just as destructive as no rain at all. Take Africa. East Africa is plagued with persistent drought but West Africa is beset with annual flooding. From Reuters:
"Welcome to hell, President." That was the banner headline of the Senegalese newspaper L'Observateur this week, ahead of the anticipated return of President Abdoulaye Wade from his holiday in Europe.
The hell the paper referred to was Senegal, where rainfall had flooded 30,000 homes in the outskirts of the capital Dakar and two other towns. Persistent power cuts sparked protests across the country while Wade holidayed in Switzerland and France.
"We are already dead and nothing matters to us. We are caught between power cuts, floods and insecurity," the paper quoted a resident of Pikine one of the flooded suburbs of Dakar.
...Many of the vulnerable live on unsafe ground. The suburbs of Dakar, home to about 1 million people, should never have been inhabited because it was swampland dried by years of drought, according to experts.
"Water oozes naturally from the earth, then there is waste water from human settlement and rainfall all of which converge in the rainy season to create an explosion of floods, cholera and malaria," Libasse Hanne a geographer and municipal councillor told AlertNet.
And so, governments in the region which hosts 13 of the world's least developed countries according to the United Nations are forced to dip into their cash strapped economies for disaster management funds.
Too much water, no water - same difference. Every farmer knows that what matters is receiving the right amount of water at the right time. Too much rain can leave the farmer unable to get onto his land to plant or to harvest or it can cause the crops to rot. Too little rain means no growth or, worse, drought.
The double whammy of global warming is not just that it's changing precipitation levels from one region to the next but that it's changing precipitation patterns, sometimes missing growing seasons entirely.
What's the answer? There probably isn't any answer for vast tracts of our planet but that doesn't mean there isn't a lesson in this for us here in blessed Canada. While we've made some progress we're still taking our water supply too much for granted. Like other aspects of global warming-driven climate change, we need to begin getting reliable information from Ottawa on what change we can expect to see over the next few generations at least. Just as we have to start dealing with warming and sea level rise, so too we have to begin looking at what's coming our way in terms of precipitation changes. Only when we receive reliable information about our prospects can we begin to plan for contingencies and then put those plans into some form of action. It's time that Messrs. Harper, Ignatieff and Layton pulled their thumbs out of their asses and began earning their pay.